Boat Rentals & Bareboat Chartering
in the Abacos, Bahamas
From Sandy Estabrook's Guide to the Abacos
Cruising to Abaco aboard your boat or just renting, we strongly recommend you get yourself a copy of the Cruising Guide to Abaco, it is a must even for the first time fly-in vacationer. It's updated annually and authored by state side professor and Elbow Cay resident, Steve Dodge and available in Abaco shops, but often hard to find. Better yet get a copy stateside at West Marine or online. His guide, although geared to the cruising folks, it's jam packed with useful info not found in any Fodor's or Frommer's etc. It's colorful and so inviting. Every nook and cranny is mentioned including many not covered in our pages. It also has a "Yellow Pages" listing of services, shops, restaurants, fishing and diving guides etc. etc.
Throughout our internet Abaco Guide, we constantly suggest renting a boat in order to take advantage of the Abaco waters. It's the primary reason most of us go to the Abacos in the first place all be it sometimes expensive. A weeks boat rental will probably come close to the cost of a week at your residence especially with the cost of fuel included.
You can figure on getting about 3 miles a gallon in a 22 footer with single engine. So, a round trip run from Hope Town to Nippers on Guana Cay will cost about $50.00 for the pleasure of a Kalik and Cheeseberger at the Abaco's premiere out island watering hole. Remember that's for all the folks in your party -still cheaper than Disneyland. It's always a fun and enjoyable trip.
If economy dictates you are to be land locked during your stay, you'll probably have the most flexibility staying on Green Turtle or Elbow Cay. Both have limited shopping, beautiful beaches, many suitable for snorkeling and lots of places to eat and stay. Still you still should rent a runabout for at least a day or two staying close to your island home. In that case, a more economic 15 - 17 footer will do nicely.
If you are a NOVICE BOATSMAN there are two suggestions;
1) Don't go out into the ocean, even worse don't go out at night. It's also prohibited by most rental agencys. The Ocean side of the cays, as well as the passages between them are strewn with reefs.
2) If you rent a boat in the area defined as the hub of Abaco (Guana, Man-O-War, Elbow Cay, Marsh Harbour) stay there. Don't try to go north of Guana Cay and conversely, if your staying at Green Turtle don't go south of Noname Cay and again don't pass between the Cays out in to the ocean. In any case most rental agencys will ask you to sign a form agreeing to the latter.
On the other hand, If you feel confident and are a boater with some navigation experience, you might want to try what we often do. Pick up at least a 22 footer in Marsh Harbour upon arrival. We use Rainbow Rentals as they are at the harbours edge, making for a quick shout out of Dodge. We then trek north the 30 miles for Green Turtle for a few days then south to Hope Town for a few more using each as a base to see the surrounding cays. As said, this inter island approach will require some boating and navigation experience OR common sense added to a copy of Dodge's Abaco Cruising Guide. Regarding the latter scenario: You've just arrived and, you've committed to a rental boat with an approximate pick up time and its raining. Well it's not so crucial upon arrival as you can wait for a squall to pass before heading out. It's a little more complicated on your return with a scheduled flight. So what we often do, if the weather looks ominous for the next morning, we return the boat the night before, spend your final night in Marsh Harbour at the Lofty Fig or Conch Inn and hit restaurant row. No rush or hassle with ferry connections in the morning.
Above - the Albury 23 shown in two configurations.
Since a good many runabout rental companies offer the Man-O-War built Albury Bros. Boats, a few words about them is in order. The Albury family have been building boats for generations while adding refinements as needed for the Abaco waters. One day I was pounding along in my 22 footer heading from Hope Town to Nippers. To my starboard side was an Albury 23 slicing through the 1-2 foot waves with very little up and down movement. I then realized what the fuss was all about regarding this boat.
Reservations; Strongly suggested and if you plan a trip in season, May - July and are considering a runabout rental you should book months ahead especially if you want the boat for a week or longer.
Life Jackets: We were recently asked if life jackets were available for children even toddlers. My reply was thus: The rental companies (that we have used) all came with life jackets and are required to supply them. However, I've never noticed sizes for children, but would presume the rental agencies have them or will get them for you. That said, and if it was me, I'd request a child's size when you book the boat, and again with a reminder call a week in advance. (Things sometimes get over looked in the Abacos)
As for Boat Size; (runabouts) when confining yourself to the surrounding waters of your Cay, a 15 - 17 footer will do. Inter island hopping, IE . Elbow Cay to Guana, 22 feet or larger is recommended especially if you plan the 30 mile trip up to Green Turtle Cay from Marsh Harbour as we often do upon arrival. The latter approach is not recommended for those without boating and navigation experience or at least common sense. Weather can also be a factor and once you've committed to a rental, you're committed. Remember the Sea of Abaco with any breeze of 15 knots or more can frequently get choppy and a 10 mile trip can often be uncomfortable in an undersized runabout. Catamarans can eliminate most of the chop. Being a cat owner myself, I can attest to this first hand as I made a Solo Trip to the Abacos from Florida's west coast in my 26 foot Glacier Bay Cat and a second two years later - but that's another story.
A Tip: This is not uncommon as once was the case with us. We rented our usual 22 footer and headed up to Nippers from Hope Town. The ride was lovely. While at nippers a typical afternoon squall kicked up and even pasted us by, but in the storms wake it left 10- 15 knot winds from the south east so we pounded all the way back. A 17 footer with a flat bottom would have been worse, a Cat, a lot better.
Docking Protocol: There are a couple things to know about boating in the Bahamas that may differ from your experiences stateside. Number one is docking / tying up. Because of the limited dock space, parking parallel to the dock is out of the question. The standard procedure is to pull up to a dock bow first, thus allowing 2 to 3 times the boats per linear foot of dock. This is done by dropping your stern anchor about 3 boat lengths from the dock while going forward to tie up to a piling. After unloading your boat, tighten up on your stern anchor a little to prevent the boat from going under the dock during any change of tide. The tide in the Abacos is about 3 feet. I have witnessed a poorly tied boat slipping under a dock and as the tide came in, got stuck underneath the dock often causing severe and costly damage. As for docks, there are docks everywhere. The Government docks are usually conspicuous due to the amount of people hanging about and number of supplies piled up. They are public. but keep the end free for commercial traffic and ferries. Just about every resort and restaurant has a small boat dock for it's visitors as do many rental properties.
The second protocol is Radio Usage. Since most boats come with VHF radios, protocol dictates you call your party on Channel 16 and then switch to a working channel. In the Abacos these are usually 11, 12, 13, 14. Channel 16 is also used for emergency and distress. For more on VHF Radio, see Cruisers Net.
- Runabout Rentals -
Green Turtle Cay: The oldest here is Donnie's Boat Rentals . He's been around since the mid 70's and so have some of his boats. Just the same they somehow always run well. He can be reached at 242-365-4119. There is also Reef Rentals a newer company and thus newer boats 242-365-4145. And finally, Spring 2011 saw still a newer company called Sunset Marine Rentals 242-365-4634.
Great Guana Cay - With more and more folks renting homes on Guana we are happy to report that Troy of Dive Guana fame, now has a few boats in the 21 - 23 foot range for rent. He also rents kaiaks if that's your thing.
Treasure Cay - If you are flying in and out of the airport of the same name, you might want to consider this option. There are two boat rental agencies at the marina at the Treasure Cay Resort. J.I.C. Boat Rentals
. 242-365-8582, and C & C Rentals,
242-365-8582. Treasure Cay's Marina access is on the Abaco mainland just south of the Whale Key passage which means you'll have to cross over it's shallow bank if heading north to Green Turtle. This generally isn't a problem in an outboard unless the rollers are high. But from Treasure it is a straight quick shot to Great Guana Cay and a half hour run to Marsh Harbour.
- Chances are you'll arrive hear anyway, so save the water taxi fare to Hope Town, Man-O-War or Guana and rent a boat here. I usually rent from Rainbow Rentals
the closest to the airport and because of the size and variety of his fleet. 242-367-4602. The owner is Wade Collins recently moved his operation just up the street -closer to the harbour entrance making for a quick getaway to the cays and avoiding the inner harbour no wake zone. They have a fleet of 22 footers, their staple, with full bimini tops to cover all seated not just a tee-top. They come equipped with two anchors, fresh water shower and VHF radio. It will pound a bit in a heavy chop. So for a smoother ride, they also provides Catamarans. If you can afford the extra price and an extra engines gas - go for it. They have the ability to slice through a choppy sea and smooth out your ride considerably. Rich's Rentals
242-367-2742, has been in Marsh Harbour longer than I can remember and offers 21 and 26 foot boats which you'll see everywhere. Another very popular boat rental agency is Sea Horse Rentals
right at the Boat Harbour Marina in Marsh. They also have facilities in Hope Town 242-367-2513. They offer a great variety of boats to choose from. It's owner is Capt. Stafford Patterson, of Captain Plug Adventures
acclaim. Blue Wave Rental's
boats are another common site in and around the Hub of Abacos. They are located at new facilities at The Harbour View Marina downtown and offer a fresh water swimming pool, bar & grill 242-367-3910. The newest agency you will find downtown in restaurant row is Abaco Dorado Boat Rentals
242-367-1035, a relatively new company offering Dusky 22's & 26's.
- If you are planning to stay on this cay you might want to look into Water Ways Boat Rentals
owned and operated by Jay and Samantha Sands. They offers complimentary pick up from Hope Town to Marsh Harbour to Guana Cay in one of their Albury Bros. boats. And they can assist you with a rental property also. 242-365-6143.
Elbow Cay (Hope Town)
- Just 5 min. outside of Hope Town Harbour on Parrot Cay is Island Marine Boat Rentals
242-366-0282. They will come pick you up anywhere on the Cay. And, they might ask you to take them home (it's not far). They have a large fleet of the Man-O-War Albury Bros. boats and boast to be the first rental boat company to offer them. 242-366-0282. Oh, the owner Dave Gale, has a fascinating story to tell -it's here
. Already mentioned, Sea Horse Rentals
has an office in Hope Town 242-367-2513. And finally there is the small fleet of new boats for rent at Cat's Paw Rentals
run by Elbow Cay native Harold Malone 242-577-0517.
Many folks come to the Abacos for its cruising and live aboard their chartered boat. Captained boats are also available for non sailing folks but most go it alone, hence the name "bareboat charter". It used to be that just about all the chartering boats in the Abacos were monohull sailing vessels. However the shallow waters of the Sea of Abaco brought about the popularity of catamaran charters both sail and more recently, power. Another advantage is sailing cats go faster than mono hull vessels which allows a trip up to Green Turtle on a cruise of limited time.
A bit of history. There have always been charter fleets in the Abacos. Some of you will remember the one time big gun of charters - CSY (Caribbean Sailing Yachts). They had an fleet in the Abacos. Some might even remember their Pearson 39. It had a glass through hull window in the main state room where it's occupants could lay there at night and watch the fish. Of course you'd have to hang a light over the side. Then early in his dictatorship Mr. Pindling, the first Bahamian Prime minister decided to levy a duty on all boats in the Bahamian waters staying longer than 6 months. No exceptions. You could of course exit, prove entry to the US or another country and then return. But could you imagine a whole fleet of 20 - 30 sailboats having to do that. So the fleets pulled out, except one Abaco Bahama Charters. Continuing on..... CSY is no longer in operation, but the good news is, 1992 saw the election of a new president, Mr. Hubert Ingraham. He was more tourist friendly and a native of Abaco. He removed the cruising restrictions and allowed extended stays with a permit. The charter fleets returned.
Today, there are approximately four charter fleets in the Abacos. The largest being The Moorings. They are based at the Conch Inn docks in Marsh Harbour. Sunsail Charters who bought the Moorings in '05 and operate independently has recently expanded its fleet operations to include Marsh Harbour. Included in their fleet will be their popular Sunsail 362 and their Cat, the Lagoon 380. In addition to mono hull craft both offer catamarans, powered and sail. Still other charter companies base themselves in Florida for the more adventurous who want to "sail over" themselves. In the meantime, there was a change of management in Abaco Bahamas Charters causing disruption in services and communication and many unhappy folks. By early 2009 they pulled anchor for the final time and closed their doors.
Based in Hope Town you'll find Abaco Multihull / Maine Cat Charters. Both have teamed up to offer both bareboat and captained charters on "Marine Cat" 30 & 41 catamarans. A newcomer a/o '09 is Alpha Cat Charters, were you can be captained by day, leaving you to your own devices by night.
If you're not a sailor and would like to learn or bone up on your skills and make it all part of an Abaco vacation, why not look into the only ASA certified sailing school in the Bahamas at Cruise Abaco Charters. In addition to their fleet of powered and sail cats, the owners can even the provide a rental home on Lubbers Quarters.
New to the Abaco scene are long time sailers Eric (licensed captain and sailing instructor) and Nathalie Savard. Eric has ocean crossing experience and speaks English and French. With Nathalie you can also include Spanish and her certification as PADI (scuba) Instructor and enjoy great food. They would love to show you the Abacos both below and above the water aboard their 41 foot Ketch. Details here: www.sailanddive.net, and you'll love their website's slide show.
Finally for the purest, how about a charter in an Abaco made sailing vessel?
Then you might want to check out the William H. Albury - a full-fledged member of the world's exclusive tall ship fraternity. She was built in 1964 in a small boatyard on Man'O'War Cay, by the man whose name she bares, and is 70 feet in length overall. For information contact Captain Joe Maggio at 305-442-9697
Today, about 15% of the charter fleet are motor yachts and those are mostly cats. The remaining 85% are almost evenly between mono hull sailboats and catamarans. You hardly saw a Catamaran 20 years ago. Most all fleets offer the option of a captained boat.
- Sandy's six trips by boat -
Click Chart for Details.